With passion and purpose to drive social change and bring injustice to light, Andra Day is a force to be reckoned with. Gracing SHAPE’s September issue as a Woman Who Runs the World in collaboration with the SeeHer movement – which aims to accurately portray women in media to raise powerful, truthful visibility – the singer, songwriter and actor opens up on how she mentally and physically took on the role of Billie Holiday and where her strength and dedication comes from.
On what she learned and hoped others learn from Billie Holiday: “What convinced me [to take the role] was the idea that the movie would tell the truth of her story, which is that she was a great godmother of civil rights,” Andra says. “The world never knew that, which was part of the design of systemic oppression. To expose it was really incentivizing.” “I had to transform not just my body but the way I spoke and even the way I thought,” she says. “I had to adopt the way she approached everything: conflict, joy, life. I lost 40 pounds. I started smoking, drinking alcohol, and even cussing more. You feel emboldened yet ravaged after a role like that. But she made me feel that I’m braver than I thought I was. I can speak my mind and not be worried about the consequences because she did that.”
On losing 40 pounds before playing Billie: “For the role, I couldn’t look like I had been eating healthfully and exercising. Even though Billie was stunning, hers was a 1940s woman’s body that had been ravaged by drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, staying out late, and not taking care. So I had to look more dehydrated and gaunt. I got to a point where I was starting to starve myself. I’d starve myself, binge eat a little, then starve myself, then binge. I’ve had people hit me up and say, ‘How did you lose the weight?’ I’m like, ‘Don’t do it this way.’ It doesn’t give you the brain clarity. It’s very disorienting. It makes you sleepy and confused. Afterward, once I started to get back to a healthier state, it felt good on my system. Now, I’m enjoying the way my body feels, my mobility, all that stuff. I want to keep running, keep working with weights, and keep eating well—and also having random Cheetos moments.”
On giving back and making a difference: “One of my goals for the coming year is to do more community work. I support the school that I went to in San Diego and other schools around the area. I also want to do something to help Black, brown, marginalized, and homeless people in the area I grew up in. Helping others is tied to my existence, the reason why I’m here. That’s tied directly to my faith, directly to my God. My identity, in the end, is wrapped up in service. I believe I was put here to be in service of my God and people. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to do dumb shit or random selfish stuff. I’m still human. When you’re in service of people, then you can stop with the judgment. You can stop needing people to live their lives according to your expectations. I don’t think there’s anything more dangerous than that agenda. Service is integral to who I am.”
On her spiritual, mental, and physical health: “My healthiest habit is my relationship with God. I try to spend time praying, reading, and meditating on what I read every day. I do it as soon as I wake up, or at night before I go to sleep. I sometimes do both just to keep my head focused.” “When I exercise, I have more clarity in my thoughts and in the way I function throughout the day. I feel more oriented. Working out helps me feel more capable. It helps me make better decisions. I often feel like brain fog is an issue for me, but when I’m working out regularly and drinking more water, my head feels clearer, truly. It’s an exciting feeling.”
The September issue of Shape magazine is available for purchase on August 13.
[Photo Credit: AB+DM/Shape Magazine]
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